Card-carrying medical marijuana users and caregivers in Petaluma will be allowed to grow three mature marijuana plants outdoors for their own use, part of a broader city ordinance to balance limited cultivation with the neighborhood impact of large backyard operations.
Two years in the making, the ordinance approved on Monday by the Petaluma City Council was expanded from an earlier proposal in order to include the explicit prohibition of a wide swath of commercial cannabis activities within the city. The move followed a concern that, absent that action by a March 1 deadline, a new statewide licensing program for marijuana producers would allow larger commercial growing of medical marijuana and related activities within city limits.
While arguing that the ban could put constraints on otherwise benign operators — and that more nefarious growers may disregard the rules entirely — medical marijuana advocates lauded the city for an approach that allowed some growing for medical use while leaving room for future tweaks.
“It addresses the key issues. It makes sure that patients with needs to access medicine can cultivate for their personal use,” said Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance.
The decision followed efforts by the Petaluma Police Department, as well as the Petaluma city attorney, to develop a framework that would make it easier to crack down in cases when growing operations were attracting crime, creating a fire hazard or simply annoying neighbors.
An earlier ordinance presented for approval in November was sent back for revisions, following the expression by most council members that the first draft’s outright ban on outdoor growing went too far in its impact on legitimate medical users. Several people identifying as medical marijuana patients testified at the time that the costs and difficulty of growing indoors were significant, and requested that the city embrace some degree of permissible outdoor cultivation.
Based on a precedent set by the city of Healdsburg in 2014, the new ordinance allows three mature plants and an unlimited number of immature plants outdoors, as long as those plants are not seen or smelled. More mature plants could be grown indoors under restrictions like maximum lighting power, with a combined limit of 100 square feet of canopy for indoor and outdoor grows.
Yet despite the change, several speakers called the three-plant limit arbitrary, claiming that the yield would be too paltry to offset the purchase of expensive medical marijuana. Brick-and-mortar dispensaries have been banned in Petaluma since 2007.
“Last year, I grew nine plants in my backyard and got two pounds of medicine. At one ounce per week, I still needed to buy one pound of marijuana for $2,000,” said Charles Cowles, a 30-year Petaluma resident.
Casting the lone dissenting vote, Councilwoman Teresa Barrett argued that the process was being rushed.
“It’s being driven by the deadline,” she said.
Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly acknowledged that the city was hurrying to position itself to be able to craft its own policy at all, as municipalities may lose the ability to do so under the March 1 deadline in the statewide licensing and regulatory program passed into law last October. Police said they were also eager to see an ordinance in place, as the absence of a local policy for medical growers has made it difficult to identify and address bad actors.